Naughty web sites

The recent talk on this blog about Googling people, in particular new romantic interests or old lost friends, has made me think about the other ways that the Internet has exposed our private lives — for good and bad. There are a few websites that I have come across recently that reveal all kinds of new information about us.

Many of you have probably heard of or used www.zillow.com, the site that lets you search the value of any property in America. You can simply type in an address and up comes the home value. In fact, you don't need an address, you can enter zip codes or neighborhoods and just browse the property values of whole blocks with an easy-to-move map grid. It's so fun. It's also still pretty innacurate. One source stated that it can predict to within 10% of a property's value almost 50% of the time. Ouch. The other 50% of the time it can be wildly imprecise.

Our house in Philadelphia is valued at a whopping 20K. Either we got royally screwed when we bought our place or this site really sucks when it comes to pricing slowly gentrifying urban areas. I hope it's the latter. But anyway it's weird to be able to so easily discover the relative home value for anyone you know: your neighbor, your cousin, your landlord, your exes.

Some of you may have come across the sex offender site www.familywatchdog.us. Again, you type in your address, and within seconds the names and photos of sex offenders living in the vicinity of your neighborhood pop up. It's so fun, right? There are so many obviously despicable criminals. Look at the gentleman who lives a block from my old house in New Mexico. (I can’t actually post a link, but you can search by name for Herman Salazar.) He's actually kind of a sweet looking guy. He's wearing what appears to be a war medal. It makes me sad to see his photo on this site. Pennsylvania is one of only four states that legally restrict mass-distribution of sex offender information (Nevada, Rhode Island, and Vermont are the other three) so I actually can‘t give you photos of the criminals who currently live on my block. And actually I’m kind of proud of that. Go Pennsylvania! Truthfully, I find the familywatchdogs website quite disturbing.

Although I certainly want to feel safe from sexual predators, are America's children actually any safer by knowing where these people live and what they look like? Have these studies been done? Is it more likely that I or my child would be assaulted/abused by someone who has yet to be found-out or convicted as a sexual predator? Is a site like this just one step away from mapping ANYONE who has committed a crime — of any kind? (God knows of course I would visit that site. And I would search all of the names of my friends and family. And it would be oodles of fun.) But seriously, sites like familywatchdog are why I find the Internet so, so disturbing.

Speaking of mapping, I just discovered you could hunt down other bloggers on subway map grids of major metro areas. It’s quite embarrassing to just be finding this out (Slate magazine did a lame article about it back in 2003), but for those of you in NYC and DC you can see how many other kooks are doing this stuff. Interestingly, greatwhatsit.com was not searchable on either of these sites. Hmm? Dave? Are we protesting this kind of mapping?

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I know there are other websites out there that continue to penetrate our privacy in previously unthinkable ways — sites you find disturbing, yet you visit anyway. I’d love to know what you all have bumped into lately.

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10 responses to “Naughty web sites”

  1. Rachel says:

    OK, so I checked. The map of sex offenders in my neighborhood looks like it was saturated with confetti. Gee, thanks, Farrell.

  2. Farrell says:

    Don’t thank me, actually. it was our good Dr. Cedrick Cedars who first informed me of the site.

  3. WW says:

    Megan’s Law was created after the rape/murder of a New Jersey girl who was killed by a convicted child molester who moved in across the street from the family without their knowledge. Initially, Megan’s Law required sex offenders to register with the police departments. This private registration proved incredibly helpful in tracking down suspects; for example in 2002, this was how police captured the killer of a San Diego girl named Danielle Van Dam.

    In CA in 2004, Megan’s Law legislation pushed the registry onto the internet. The problem for me is, I’ve never heard of a public registry working. A public sex offender database, unfortunately, is not going to stop heinous acts from happening. Even if you check your registry every week, what are you going to do if a sex offender moves across the street? You’re going to be more cautious. But as a good parent, you probably are anyway.

    Or, you’re going to take the law in your own hands. On April 16, 2 fellows in Maine were shot by a man who tracked them down off of the state’s sex offender website. After police caught the shooter, they went through his computer. They discovered that the killer, a 20-year-old dishwasher, had hunted four other sex offenders that night. He’d used the pictures and addresses from the registry to map out a kill plan. He was on his way to his next victim in Boston when he was stopped.

    What if one of his victims was on that site by mistake?

  4. the other problem with registries is that many states include a huge range of “crimes” under the “sex offender” category — including, say, sex in a secluded but still “public” space like a park at night, solicitation of a prostitute, etc. — not really things neighbors need to be worried about (unless, i suppose, someone has a habit of soliciting prostitutes to have sex on your front lawn).

  5. p.s.

    i just noticed, back stage, that this post was just picked up by a blog called “see her squirt,” which as far as i can tell is a filter for anything that contains certain sexual keywords. heh heh. invasion of privacy indeed. who knows what kind of traffic that baby will generate.

  6. Dave says:

    My favorite naughty website is fundrace.org, where you can look up your neighbors or anyone in the country and find out to whom and how much they contributed in campaign cash. What does it say about me that I think of Bush donoirs as worse than some sex offenders?

    I also just found this today, a must see: Ali G intersviews Posh and Becks.

  7. JaneAnne says:

    What fun linkies! One of the nice things about fundrace is that you can find out not only to whom your neighbors contributed, but also what they do for a living. I knew Ursula LeGuin lived around the corner, but I didn’t know that the owner of Clear Creek Distillery lived two blocks away, or that nice Roger from around the corner was a PSU prof emeritus. The first page of results turned up only five donors to Bush or the RNC, none of them living in my immediate vicinity (in which the only Bush sign during the 2004 campaign season was in front of the house of a gay couple). Our own political contributions didn’t show up. Hmm.

    And Farrell, you can add Oregon to your list of states that doesn’t have a web-accessible sex offender registry–at least until it goes up as scheduled later this summer.

  8. Stella says:

    I’m suddenly depressed by the blogging maps. At my metro stop alone there must be 30 and those are only the people that signed up with the site. We’re all so needy. And approximately four people are reading our blogs willingly and another two are mistakenly looking for porn sites. The random chatter is deafening.

  9. Lisa Parrish says:

    Ha! And another one is “Audra,” which is apparently a spammer-generated name with a link to a cheap-prescription-drugs website! Don’t click on it!

  10. got it. we have a spam killer installed that’s nabbed 400 of these so far. every once in a while one slips through. we owe it all to farrell’s title in this post … though we’re getting a lot of hits from all sorts of spammy sites, esp. music ones.